This is why Android users can't have nice things
Twitter today announced that it is finally releasing a tablet-ready version of its Android application. It's about time. Having to use a blown-up version of the company's smartphone app is like eating spaghetti with chopsticks -- it can be done, but it'd be easier to use a fork. The new app is that fork.
This new app offers everything an Android user might want. It has a tablet-optimized interface. It has a widget that allows users to interact with Twitter right from their homescreen. It even has a few features, such as the ability to draw on images or shrink the app to only take up a portion of the screen, that do more than bring the new app in line with the app iPad owners have been using since 2010.
So, what's the catch? Well, the app is only available on Samsung tablets at launch, and isn't expected to release on other Android tablets for another few months. Furthermore, ughhhhhh.
In theory, this makes perfect sense. Some of the app's features -- the drawing and re-sizing capabilities mentioned above -- were clearly designed with Samsung's products in mind. The company is the single largest Android tablet manufacturer in the world. Twitter could've chosen a worse launch partner.
That doesn't stop the release from being the latest sign of Android users' woes. Twitter made a smart, rational decision about its latest product launch -- it just so happens to be a decision that will rankle the millions of Android users who don't own Samsung tablets and have been waiting for Twitter to release a proper tablet app. This is just another byproduct of the Android platform's fragmentation that consumers and developers have been complaining about for years.
Samsung doesn't sell the majority of Android tablets. Neither does Asus, which has partnered with Google to make the two most recent Nexus tablets. Nor does Acer, or Lenovo, or HTC, or any of the other manufacturers which have released Android tablets in the last year. Samsung just happens to sell more tablets than any of those other brands, each of which is inconsequential alone but theoretically un-ignorable in aggregate.
Supporting the products made by each of those manufacturers is a daunting task. Most developers make sure that their applications work well on the most popular devices and then trust that their software will work on other products or that the number of people using those products is small enough to ignore. Otherwise they're forced to release their app in stages, offering timed exclusivity to a manufacturer and pleasing people who own its devices while everyone else is left to stew in dissatisfaction.
It makes sense for businesses. Companies have limited resources and need to focus their efforts. It's easier to release an Android app optimized for a few devices than it is to release an Android app released for every device available around the world. (This is the same logic that convinces startups to release their apps on iOS and then expand to Android -- or simply stick with iOS.)
For consumers, however, the entire situation is unappealing. They can purchase a device they like and hope that app developers will support it or deal with the idiosyncrasies that might pop up; they can purchase a popular device and trust that worthwhile apps will be released as soon as companies turn their attention to Android; or they can give up and continue to eat their spaghetti with chopsticks -- or forgo the meal entirely, as the case may be.
[Image courtesy Johan Larsson]